Since Carmel dates back far beyond that of Our Holy Parents, Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross, one would ask: where did it all begin? In 1321, Our Lady had revealed to Saint Peter Thomas that
The order of Carmel is destined to exist until the end of the world.
This would be fitting because in theory the very first monastic order to take form was under our original Carmelite (Desert) Holy Father, Elijah, who began his intense eremitical life on Mount Carmel where his original cell was that of a cave. This prophet who scripture tells us will also come back down to earth to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Christ, still has an important part to play. Many secrets have been revealed on mountaintops: Abraham went to such a place to sacrifice his son, Issac to God; Moses also received the Ten Commandments from God while on top of a mountain. Was it not Elijah who was next to Our Lord on a similar summit during His transfiguration? Finally, Elijah’s mysterious vision (described below) was seen on Mount Carmel. Now that we know the meaning of Our Lady’s mysterious prophecy of Carmel “destined” to exist until the end of the world, it would be only fitting that it’s father and founder would come back as Carmel’s commander-in-chief for the decisive and final battle ahead. So what makes Carmel, the desert – or mountain – destined for greatness?
It has been demonstrated that the renewal of contemplative-monastic life brings revitalization to the Church. The effects of Protestantism, Secularism and the synthesis of all heresies which is Modernism, have all penetrated religious life. Thus, we must look back to Elijah where it all began; he was the prophet who was chosen to foresee the glorious foot of Our Lady predicting this future war between the seed of Satan and the seed of Her own:
Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel (the mount(tain), crouched down to earth and put his head between his knees. Six times he looked out to the seas and saw nothing. And the seventh time the youth reported, ‘there is a cloud as small as a foot rising from the sea.’ In Genesis, God the Father said to the serpent: ‘She will crush your head and you will strike Her Heel.’ (1 Kings 18:43)
Are Carmelite souls destined to form Her Heel? After all, it was Elijah on the top of Carmel who saw this Heel take shape. Only time will tell. However, at Fatima on October 13th, 1917 – the same day as the miracle of the sun – did not Our Lady also appear as Our Lady of Mount Carmel?
Carmel seems to be the key ingredient in proclaiming victory over Satan. Carmel was in a very real sense, the first monastic order to exist with Elijah; the first-ever founder and according to Our Lady, will it also be the last? The Blessed Virgin Mary has revealed extraordinary secrets of Her Heart through the holy prophets and order of Carmel: The gift of Her Scapular to Saint Simon Stock and the intense and disciplined rule of Saint Albert of Jerusalem. In no other apparition does Our Lady appear in a different habit, only the Holy Habit of Carmel. If we reread all that was written in regards to Fatima, the “Carmel destiny” and the future role of Elijah, we are reminded that Carmel is truly Our Lady’s order. Consequently, we do not limit ourselves to strictly looking back at Our Holy Parents Teresa and John, but to the very beginning where it all began on the mountain of Mount Carmel. As Scripture has shown us, it began with Elijah and it must end with him.
I want to share a story. After reflecting on this particular event today, I was utterly taken aback how God LED me to Carmel through it’s founder: Elijah. Three years ago I had actually found this story so moving that I wrote about it in one of my earlier blogs during 2017. At the time, I was briefly living in California and decided to fly to Colorado for Our Lady’s Centennial Anniversary of Fatima in May of that year. I theorized that since I had discovered my vocation to religious life in Colorado, it was only fitting to pay homage to Our Lady where my love for Her was cultivated. Although only a weekend trip, I was anticipating much excitement, but was disappointed when the three short days I was there were filled with confusion and truly odd sufferings. Just four days prior to May 13th , I had received my acceptance into the cloistered Poor Clare’s of the Immaculate in Acquapendente, Italy. At long last, I was finally ready to be a cloistered nun – something I had been running from for years (the desert!) Yet, why was I filled with anxiety, sadness and experiencing a lack of sleep and no appetite – especially on the day I have been waiting for, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.
I was about to get coffee with one of my closest friends and had a few minutes to spare, so I called my spiritual director to spill my heart, hoping to receive answers through him. I was a mess on the phone. I remember two things from that conversation. He had absolute confidence in my vocation, but he said,
Maybe you are not called to enter the Poor Clare’s of the Immaculate?
He proceeded to tell me about the life Teresa of Avila, my future “Holy Mother” had led. He said she was so faithful to her vocation in the desert (being alone with Our Lord) that when she started establishing new foundations, she was so “done” with the world and it’s “affairs” that she kept her eyes cast down to keep her mind focused on her Divine Spouse. But you know what this did for the people around her? My director said she converted people on the spot by her very presence; she didn’t preach – she didn’t need to. I felt instant consolation and a profound connection to this saint; for obvious reasons, I now know the reason why. Saint Clare had never felt like a “mother” to me and I couldn’t figure that out…and there was something about the desert of Carmel that I couldn’t shake.
When I entered Carmel, we did not even call Teresa by her name, it was always tenderly “Our Holy Mother”. Something about my spiritual director’s words regarding this saint just felt right. After I hung up from my spiritual director and met with my friend the exchange that followed only grew more intense for me. We sat down and I explained my situation and she said my predicament reminded her of the prophet Elijah growing tired on his journey and resting under a tree. It was the first time I heard the story so she pulled it up on google and read it to me. I was touched beyond words as she recited the following:
O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers. And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold an angel touched him, and said to him, arise and eat. (1 Kings 19:5)
The angel gave Elijah bread to eat and told him he still had a long way to go. My soul felt strengthened and revived from that story. It felt like my friend was that angel telling me to “arise and eat”; as if by filling the shoes of Elijah, I was simply feeling worn out myself. When the weekend came to an end, I was at the airport waiting for my flight and leaning against one of the airport pillars (might as well have been a “broom tree”). A family sat on the floor a few feet away and they pulled out various food items and a bag of bread sticks. I looked over at their impromptu meal and was reflecting on my poor appetite from the weekend; I remember telling God something along the lines of “I wonder when mine will return?” At that time, I had one of those “smart” phones; I pulled it out to open the “Divine Mercy App” and opened the part where Our Lord told Faustina,
In the evening, the Lord said to me, My child, rest on My Heart; I see that you have worked hard in My vineyard.
After reading that, I put the phone down and let those words sink in. At that moment, the mother of the family was still sitting on the floor; she turned, looked at me and held out the bag of bread sticks to give to me. For some reason, I do not remember having had any kind of conversation with her; I only thanked her. I think I was too shocked. I had an image of Elijah being administered to by an angel and felt a wave of consolation wash over my soul. I took a bite and I smiled with some tears because I suddenly realized that my appetite had returned. Like my Holy Desert Father, I was given bread, too; modern-day pizza bread sticks from the airport to be sure, but symbolic, nonetheless!
Fast-forward three years later and it’s crystal clear, now. On the one-hundred year anniversary of Fatima I did in fact receive the greatest grace of my life: a call to Carmel through none other than Our Lady, “Our Holy Mother” and the one who started it all, Elijah. I received a foretaste of the “desert life” that weekend and looking back now, I see how more than ever that being a Carmelite Hermitess (like the early desert Fathers) for Our Lady, shrouded in Our Lady of Fatima is truly not of my own will, but something willed by heaven. The great saints who called me (a poor wretch) to Carmel will never cease in telling me to “arise and eat; you have yet a long way to go”.
Just twelve days prior to my departure from Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph we performed a play on the prophet Elijah for mother superior’s feast day; I was cast as the angel who appeared to Saint Elijah. I felt honored and it was a little comical to be cast in the opposite role of the one whose story I just shared with you. It was a musical and the angel (me) had a solo; the words the angel spoke were in an alto tone and the lyrics were filled with even more prophecy for what seemed to hint at my own life, yet again:
Oh rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him and He shall give thee thy hearts desires. And He shall give thee thy hearts desires. Commit thy way unto Him and trust in Him; fret not thyself because of evil doers.
These were the gist of the words, but they were repeated over and over in different notes for two minutes or more. When I was rehearsing the music by myself or with our novitiate piano player, something about the lyrics seemed to be directed at me, even though I was playing the part of the messenger to Elijah in the skit. It was like the meaning was the same one I had experienced years earlier on that memorable May 13th. Life of an anchorite was definitely not on my mind as I honestly had never heard of it, but my heart was telling me that no matter what the future held, Our Lord would fulfill all my desires and send His angels to assist me. As I stated in the beginning, Elijah still has a part to play; he will come back and prepare the way of the Lord before He returns – not as a Child, but an all-powerful King. This great “Desert Father” will never cease to give strength, courage and zeal to all his Carmelite sons and daughters. It started with Elijah and it must end with him. Elijah left on a chariot of fire; perhaps this is how he will return?
The vocation to Carmel – to the “mountain”- is not an easy one. It takes the strength of a man; Our Holy Mother Teresa was so adamant with this ideal that she told her daughters “we must have no women in this house; we must be like strong men”. When she wrote this in her native tongue, the Spanish translation was actually “we must be like bearded men”! The nuns always laughed at this; it shows what a sense of humor Teresa had, but her words were spot on. In this current culture of feminism many might take offense to this, but from experience I have found how important this statement is. A bride of Christ must have a tender, motherly and feminine heart, but she must also be strong and able to stand like Our Lady at the foot of the cross. Feminism is a great evil in the world and in the Church; Satan thrives on it.
After many years of searching for my home, I have finally found it on the summit of Mount Carmel; the place where it all began. I went through much purification to get to this point, but my love for Carmel and the saints that it produces has instilled in me a purer love for this priceless vocation than I ever could have imagined possible:
The greater the suffering, the purer the love. ~Saint Faustina~
I always felt called to the most intense way of life possible. Earthly marriage between a man and a woman never seemed to fulfill my own desires and the role of a missionary sister also just wasn’t enough. However, when I imagined how the original Desert Fathers lived by leaving everything to be alone with God even if it meant living in a cave, there is something so utterly fascinating about that: to leave ALL for pure love of God. Ah, that is the love my heart desires! An intense way of life and a intense love of God and Our Lady. Truly, Carmel is Mary’s order and I can’t wait to see how it’s destiny is fulfilled through it’s Carmelite Father: Elijah.